I didn’t see the blood, not at first. I saw the small silver bowl, wheeling through the air, a trajectory it shouldn’t have been taking. I heard the thwack as it hit my two year old’s head, followed by a piercing cry. She was on my lap already, facing away, our posture didn’t have to change for me to start the act of comforting her. It was twenty seconds, thirty seconds before I felt the stickiness between my fingers, before I finally turned her round. And then I saw red. I saw it everywhere.
Next we are waiting. For at least an hour, so says the electronic board on the far wall of the Emergency Room. She is calm now, she is fine. But my heart is still clattering around my ribcage like a salsa dancer. How many months will I age in this waiting room, with my anxiety for company and the stale stench of illness? The cut, just below her hairline, is not long. I can see that now I’ve peeled away the paper towels. Now that I am not panicking anymore and I can tell which blood is old and which is new. The cut is not long, but it is deep. I rest my chin on the top of her head, where the hair is matted and smells like metal.
I’ve been here before. In the Emergency Room with blood on my hands, but also in this place of mind, looking at one of my children’s faces and realizing it will be marked for life. Not terribly, oh I know we have been lucky so far, but permanently just the same. It is the permanence that gets me. There is something perverse about young skin being severed. The buttery softness we marvelled over when they were babies, the supple perfection of it, as we rubbed it against our cheeks. It was pristine and now it is broken. And the worst part is that it will never go back to the way it was.
I have two scars between my eyebrows, a crescent and a full moon sitting together in a lover’s embrace. One is a souvenir from the chicken pox and the other is the remnant of an accident involving my sister and a brass barrier and sixteen stitches. They came years apart, these blemishes, it’s funny how they found the same home on my face. For me, they are but another contour of the mirror’s familiar landscape. For my mother, however, they are something else. I still catch her looking, shaking her head, suggesting I get them “fixed.” The small injuries of childhood might belong to the children, but they are the parents’ crosses to bear.
I understand that now. I feel the same way my mother does, whenever I let my eyes linger too long on my son’s forehead, the scar there gleaming white and wider than it should be. He is oblivious to it, but I can chart the coordinates perfectly: not quite central, not quite straight. Friends assure me they hardly notice it, they probably don’t. Only parents, it seems, know their children’s faces so intimately. Which is why we are the ones dabbing vitamin E oil on them as they sleep, trying to remove, in vain, the evidence that they are capable of being damaged in the first place.
Facial scars are particularly hard in this respect. They are visible to us, always, a constant reminder of the fragility of these creatures we love more than life itself. A constant reminder of how we will not be able to protect them in every instance, how they can get hurt, badly, even when we are standing right next to them. Even when they are sitting, curled in our laps.
My daughter lay still as a breezeless day while the doctor, who looked little more than a child herself, glued the wound closed. A lot of capillaries in the head, she said, that’s why it bled so much. It wasn’t too bad this time, which makes me wonder, which makes me worry, what happens when it’s worse. I keep my cool in many parenting situations, bodily harm is not among them. If these minor injuries are a test of my mettle, of my ability to rise to the challenge of the darker moments of motherhood, I have not passed with flying colors. If scars tell stories, they are not the ones about my children I want to hear.
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